Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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12/11/17: at school: an act of remembrance

Now that the problems with the website are fixed I'm working towards again putting up a weekly blog post.  I've got some more general reflections on working in school teaching again in preparation in my mind, but today I wanted to tell you about one particular thing.

Here in the UK the nearest Sunday to 11th November is Remembrance Sunday, corresponding to the First World War finishing in 1918 on that date.  Working with youngsters at this time is a reminder just how fast time goes by, with current affairs very quickly becoming history.  So in an 11-18 school, our youngest pupils won't have clear memories of Gordon Brown being Prime Minister, let alone Tony Blair or John Major, with Margaret Thatcher absolutely relegated to ancient times.  (For non-UK readers, and those in the UK with shorter memories than me, the dates are 2007-10, 1997-2007, 1990-1997 and 1979-1990 respectively).

On Friday the assembly was a very beautiful act of remembrance, including the head boy and girl reading the names former pupils who had died in the First World War, Second World War, and Falklands conflict.  The sense of community and continuity, recognising their sacrifice that we might have peace, was very meaningful and heartfelt.

But before assembly time came an email from the headteacher to say that, at 1100 during lesson time, there would be a two minute silence.  When I saw that email I checked my timetable as to what I would be doing, and when I saw which class I had I confess that my heart sank.  Two minutes silence?  Really?  Two seconds seems to be quite an effort much of the time?  (A point to which I return in future posts).

I went to the departmental room and mentioned my concerns.  No problem, one experienced teacher said, pupils take it very seriously - and if they don't there are serious consequences.  OK, that's helpful, although I'm really not looking out for further points of conflict.

And then another colleague suggested finding a PowerPoint presentation displaying appropriate images to show during the silence.  Brilliant, I thought, why on earth didn't I think of that?  With the help of Google I found an appropriate presentation of images from World War One and more recent remembrance ceremonies in a very short period of time.  So, all ready!

When the moment came my colleagues were, of course, absolutely right, the class to one person respected the two minute silence, which came to an end with the Last Post played on the trumpet by two of our pupils.  I wasn't specifically checking as to whether pupils were watching the PowerPoint presentation but I think many of them were.

So, everything is fine, isn't them?  The presentation gave a focus for thought with some images which were entirely keeping with the spirit of the remembrance act.

So why am I left feeling uneasy?  That I've done the easy - and wrong - thing, gone down the line of least resistance.  Or to use a military analogy, I won the battle but not the war.  More generally, I worry that we live in a world where we go about things assuming that concentration levels are miniscule and that we constantly need to be provoked and entertained - so during the week I was watching a Channel 4 news interview with a constantly changing background image.  Do the editors think their viewers won't continue watching just because of the interview itself?

Aware that I'm starting to ramble so will stop here for this week.  But in making sense of working with youngsters in the context of actually doing it is giving a large amount of food for thought, I look forward to sharing with you again soon.  Meanwhile, any thoughts on the above gratefully received!

2 Comments to 12/11/17: at school: an act of remembrance:

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Angurini Stephen on 13 November 2017 09:52
Very good reminder. Though we are experiencing rapid changes in the world, that shouldn't deter us from remembering the past.
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mweru mwingi on 02 December 2017 07:33
Hi Geoff I ahve been meaning to post something on your blog for a year ... I do get to know that you are well which is good. What is new with you? IED is fine. It has been a hectic year with SESEA ending but I have to say I am looking forward to a quiet 2018. Keep well and God bless.
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